Thursday, February 28, 2013

Leonard Bernstein: The Making Of West Side Story

Leonard Bernstein [1914-1990] and The Making of West Side Story, a TV documentary filmed in 1984 on one of the best modern musicals of the 20th century.


Photos Outside My Apartment Window

A Personal View Of Toronto

Our family moved to Toronto a few months ago, to a region called North York; we live in a 2-bedroom apartment on the second floor of an old apartment complex, a maze of four buildings interconnected somehow by a tunnel that we haven't figured out just yet; we live in Building C, which overlooks a courtyard with a view of Sheppard Ave in the distance. These are photos after a snowfall, pretty in some way, the white vibrant in contrast to the grey bleakness. The three photos were taken this morning around 7 facing a SW exposure.


Table & 1 Chair:
Photo Credit: Perry J. Greenbaum, 2013

The Courtyard Without People 1:
Photo Credit: Perry J. Greenbaum, 2013

The Courtyard Without People 2:
Photo Credit: Perry J. Greenbaum, 2013

U.S. Company Plans Manned Mars Voyage for 2018

Space Flight

Mars Mission Spacecraft. This is an artist's rendition of the Inspiration Mars Foundation spacecraft,
which is scheduled to launch in January  2018 and which will bring a married couple within 160 km
of the Red Planet. Dennis Tito, American billionaire investor and former NASA rocket scientist,
is initially financing the mission.
Image Credit: Inspiration Mars Foundation, 2013
Source: Fox News

A manned mission to Mars comprising a married couple of a man and a woman, is being planned by a private enterprise and scheduled for January 5, 2018; the couple would be together in tight quarters for a 501-day trip, certainly testing their relationship. The manned spacecraft would not land on the Red Planet, but come close to it—within 160 km (100 miles)—and then make the return trip to Earth.

An article in CBC News says the mission is initially being financed by American billionaire investor, Dennis Tito, chairman of the Inspiration Mars Foundation, a non-profit organization. Tito is a former NASA rocket scientist and the world's first space tourist; the couple will be the first to travel close to Mars.
The space voyagers will come within 160 kilometres of the surface of the Red Planet, then swing around and return to Earth. "I'm just really excited about this," said Tito. "This is a challenging but attainable goal, advancing human experience and knowledge. Now is the time."
Tito lamented NASA's lack of progress in human space flight since the moon missions 40 years ago U.S. President Barack Obama said in a 2010 speech that by the mid-2030s, he envisioned being able to send humans to orbit Mars and then return them safely to Earth, and he expected to be around to see humans land on Mars after that. However, Tito said, "I'm going to be 95 years old. I don't want to wait."
He added that the 2018 launch date represents a window of opportunity when the journey from Earth to Mars will be the shortest, due to their alignment with one another. The next such opportunity won't come until 2031.
In order to move things forward, Tito said he has committed to personally funding the first two years of the project, until the end of 2014. He emphasized that it's not a commercial mission, and he doesn't expect to get rich from the venture. "Let me guarantee you, I will come out a lot poorer as a result of this mission. But my grandchildren will come out a lot wealthier through the inspiration that this will give them."
He hopes to raise the rest of the money from private donors, charitable organizations, selling media rights and selling data to NASA.
This is exciting news, and is a reminder of the Space Race of the 1960s between the Americans and the Russians to decide which nation would be the first to land a manned vessel on the moon; the Americans eventually won, but so did humanity in the many technological and medicall benefits that came out of the space mission.

The mission to Mars is exciting in a similar way, notably that it reminds us of the exporer spirit still inherent in humanity; and as the Star Trek TV show said in its mission statement, "to go where no man has gone before." I wish Mr. Tito all the success with this inspirational project.

You can read the rest of the article at [CBC News].

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Why Nuclear Talks With Iran Will (Always) Fail

The Iran File

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: Iran's Supreme Leader considers himself the chief guardian of the Islamic Republic, and his dark views of the West, directed primarily at the United States, prevents him from signing any deal to limit nuclear production. In the LA Times articles, Khamenei said that "his country is not seeking nuclear weapons, but that no world power could stop its access to an atomic bomb if it intended to build one."
Photo Credit: AP/Office Of the Supreme Leader
Source: LA Times
An excellent op-ed piece, by Hussein Banai, in The Los Angeles Times implicitly explains why this round of nuclear talks with the six world powers failed, and why any future talks are unlikely to succeed. It has everything to do with Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his dark views of the West, the United States in particular; Israel is caught in this feud, as the sole representative western democracy in the region. 

Banai writes:
But of course the real source of Khamenei's seemingly rejectionist attitude is not the bullying approach of the West toward Iran's nuclear program. After all, he also routinely undermined attempts at rapprochement between the Khatami and Clinton administrations at a time when worries about Iran's nuclear program did not exist. Rather, he is increasingly paranoid about the implications of a "grand bargain" with the United States for his privileged position as the chief interpreter of the ideals of the Islamic Republic.
Simply put, normalization of relations between Iran and the United States would deprive Khamenei and the deeply invested cohort of radical ideologues around him of a powerful justification for their arbitrary rule.
Continued enmity with the United States has time and again proved to be a convenient excuse for silencing the reformist opposition (as in the case of the 2009 Iranian presidential election, which has simply become known as "the sedition") and managing the increasingly fragmented conservative establishment.
The internal religious politics of Iran cannot be ignored, these playing a prominent and overarching role in Iran's governance. Its desire to obtain nuclear weapons is as much about thumbing its nose at the great powers as it is about showing the international community that it won't be pushed around. It would take something grand taking place inside Iran to free its people from such restrictive and destructive views.The chances of this happening soon are regrettably slim.

You can read the rest of the article at [LA Times]

Quebec's Program Of Linguistic Cleansing

Language Extermination

One of the pleasures of living in Toronto is that you rarely hear news about Quebec and its program of protecting the French language. And yet that is a problem in itself, because it deserves greater attention from Canadians, if not the international community.

The chief question one has to ask is what is Quebec's ultimate purpose in "protecting" the French language?Concomitant to this is from what or whom does it need protection? The short answer, and it sounds absurd but it is true, is that Quebec's zeal is directed against the "evils" of the English and its language. [For a brief history of Quebec's linguistic and political views, read a previous post, "The Outsiders: Anglos in Quebec."]

For almost 40 years—and yet it is more evident today under the "leadership" of the Marois ultra-nationalist PQ government— Quebec, under all political parties, has been enacting laws to reduce the English language, its culture and its presence in Montreal. No one objected. The English have no advocate in Quebec City and none in Ottawa;  no political party represents their interests, provincially or nationally. Laws that regulate businesses go to great extremes to ensure that English is not present; to enforce its language laws, Quebec has a bureau (Office québécois de la langue française), the so-called language police, dedicated to just that purpose.

Here are a few recent examples, reported in the media, from the many that occur regularly.
Quebec's language watchdog is backtracking after demanding a chic Montreal Italian restaurant change its menu because Italian words such as "pasta" were too predominant. The Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) said it may have been over-zealous in its attempt to promote French language in public places. "The office will consider this restaurant's particular situation while taking into account exceptions relating to foreign specialties," said the OQLF in a release late Wednesday. [CBC News]
One of Canada's most famous restaurants has come forward with its own tale of troubles with Quebec's language watchdog, days after a flap over the word pasta made international headlines. Montreal's Joe Beef, which has been featured on international cooking shows and has a best-selling book, is the latest restaurant to complain about the Office quebecois de la langue francaise. Owner David McMillan said inspectors took issue with some of his wall art, including a memento from a visit to Prince Edward Island beach that says "exit" and an antique sign above the staff bathroom that says "please leave this gate closed."
McMillan said he was shocked by the lack of understanding from the inspectors, who were young and seemed like "deer in headlights." He said the dustup has left a sour taste, but added that he has no plans to move his celebrated restaurant elsewhere any time soon. "I love Quebec... but it's not getting any easier," said McMillan, who is completely bilingual. "My wife is French, my business partner is French, my children go to French school, but I just get so sad and depressed and wonder, what's wrong with these people?" [Calgary Herald/CP]
Major Canadian retailers are preparing to fight Quebec’s language police to keep their trademarks intact, in the face of threatened prosecution of English-named companies that include no French in their storefront signage. Montreal’s downtown streets and suburban shopping malls are awash with such brands as Banana Republic, Old Navy, Sunglass Hut, Foot Locker and Home Depot, and the Office québécois de la langue française has decided things have gone too far.The Office last month began mailing warnings to dozens of companies that have not co-operated with its push to have stores with trademarked English names add generic French terms to their signs. For example, Second Cup has added “les cafés” before its name and the eyewear chain New Look added “lunetterie.” [National Post]
The owner of a small animal charity in the east end of Montreal is so fed up with Quebec's language police that she is refusing to take down her signs in English.Sophie Fournier runs a not-for-profit dog adoption service and she has been fighting the Office québécois de la langue française for more than year.The issue is Fournier's sign on the side window of her home. It's all in English and the OQLF says it needs to come down —or be revised so that the English wording is in smaller lettering than the French. [Global News]
Now, if you are residing outside Quebec you will immediately question what is going on. Is this a farce? Is this for real? No, it's not a farce, and yes it's for real. Quebec's program of linguistic cleansing has a precedent.

In Stalinist Russia starting in the 1930s, the government instituted a program to extinguish Jewish life and Jewish culture, including the Yiddish language, in its aims to make the Soviet Union completely Russian or Russified; in Spain, starting under Franco, Basques were forbidden to speak their native language; as was the case of Korean in Korea under Imperialist Japanese rule (1910-1945). In all of these examples, authoritarian regimes instituted political and economic policies to indoctrinate if not reduce the minority people and its culture. All of the above examples proved successful in its aims to reduce the importance of the minority people and its language and culture in the public space. Harassment and enforcement obviously work if it has the force of law behind it.

So, yes, Quebec has a precedent. Linguistic cleansing is effective and it works, notably if it has the power and authority of the stare behind it, as is the case in Quebec. Its English-language minority essentially has no representation in government, and by dint of small numbers and concentration in Montreal and a few suburbs is generally powerless at the polls to influence change. It would take a concerted effort from the federal government, the other provinces, the courts, and international pressure to persuade the Quebec government to alter its course.

Quebec is an exemplary and leading liberal democracy in so many ways—its French-speaking people tolerant, generous and open in so many ways—except when it comes to English language and culture. This is its blind spot, its Achilles’ heel; it has opened a Pandora's box of linguistic tension. Many in the English community, including its media, accept the reality, accepting that the best that one can hope for is nibbling around the edges. That change will come, but not quickly; well, that would be good and preferable.

Such is not likely to happen soon, if at all, chiefly because federal leaders in Ottawa and the rest of the provincial leaders in Canada have little interest in confronting Quebec over its language laws. As for the courts, Quebec essentially ignores their rulings by either making new laws or using the notwithstanding clause (Section 33) of the federal charter, which forms part of the Canadian Constitution (Note: Quebec is the only Canadian province that has not signed and endorsed the Constitution, yet it uses its legal provisions to its advantage.). Nothing changes except the situation becomes worse. And the language watchdogs will continue to do what they do best.

Thus, anglophones, as they are referred to in Quebec, can either accept the laws as they are and face a continued policy of linguistic cleansing, or they can leave, as I have recently done. As an English writer with diminishing economic opportunities in Quebec, I had to make a hard choice, not only thinking about today but also about my children's future. I left with my family in November 2012, since I felt excluded from Quebec, this despite having been born and raised in Montreal, having a working knowledge of French, having survived two referendums, and having a love for the city of Montreal.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mediterranean Diet Best For The Heart

Health News

A comprehensive medical study shows that the Mediterranean diet with olive oil and nuts was best for cardiovascular heath, even much better than a low-fat diet that many people currently follow. The article, by Melissa Healy, in The Los Angeles Times, says:
The study's findings, released Monday by the New England Journal of Medicine, also add to mounting evidence contradicting a long-held tenet of dieting to improve health: that all calories are equal. The benefits of the Mediterranean diet were pretty substantial too: compared with a group of 2,450 subjects who were urged to follow a low-fat diet, the 4,997 who followed a Mediterranean diet supplemented either with nuts (2,454 subjects) or with extra-virgin olive oil (2,543 subjects) were 30% less likely to suffer one of the following outcomes: a heart attack, stroke or death attributed to cardiovascular disease.
The Mediterranean dieters were almost 40% less likely than the low-fat dieters to have a stroke during the follow-up period. And the superiority of the Mediterranean diet over a low-fat diet was consistent across virtually all sub-categories of participants -- men, women, older and younger subjects, and those with or without every risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Only among the small group of subjects without hypertension did a low-fat diet show better results.
All of the trial's subjects were ages 55 to 80 (women were 60 to 80) and either had type 2 diabetes or satisfied at least three of the following criteria: they were active smokers, were overweight or obese, had a family history of premature heart disease or had hypertension or worrisome cholesterol readings. After randomizing the subjects to the low-fat diet group, the Mediterranean diet with tree nuts group or the Mediterranean diet with olive oil group, researchers followed the subjects for a median of 4.8 years to ensure they were adhering to their recommended regimen and to gauge how many in each group suffered a heart attack or stroke or died of cardiovascular disease.
The health benefits to the heart of such a diet, rich in fatty fish, fruits, vegetables and fatty acids, have long been known from an anecdotal point of view; now there is scientific evidence to support the idea that nuts and olive oil play also play a significant role in reducing the possibility of cardiovascular diseases. Somehow the combination of such foods helps the heart work better. As does an occasional glass of red wine.

You can read the rest of the article at [LA Times]

Monday, February 25, 2013

2 Iranian Novels Published In Israel

Cultural Translations

My Uncle Napoleon: The book cover of the English-language version of Iranian writer 
Iraj Pezeshkzad's 1973 novel; Trans: Dick Davis.

Aarticle, by Samuel Thrope, in The Christian Science Monitor says that two Iranian novels have been translated into Hebrew and published in Israel.
When the Hebrew manuscript of the Persian novel "My Uncle Napoleon" crossed Jonathan Nadav's desk at Xargol Books, the small but highly regarded Israeli publishing house, the editor was skeptical. His doubts lay not with the modern Iranian classic, or the translation by then unknown translator Orly Noy – Iraj Pezeshkzad's 1973 novel is a captivating satire of Iran under the Shah, and Noy is, in Nadav's words, "simply a gifted translator."
The editor worried about readers' reactions. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatens a preemptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities and paints the Islamic Republic as a second Nazi Germany, "all most Israelis know about Iranians is that they have mustaches and nuclear bombs," Ms. Noy later said.But Xargol decided to take on the manuscript, and Mr. Nadav's bet paid off. "My Uncle Napoleon," first published last summer, was one of the publishing house’s most successful books in 2012, and is already in its second edition.
Noy's translation of Iranian writer Mahmoud Dowlatabadi's "The Colonel " was published that same week by Am Oved, a leading Israeli publisher and partner of Xargol, and received rave reviews. The two are the first Persian novels ever to appear in Hebrew, and they have opened a window for Israeli readers to the rich culture of contemporary Iran at a time when little other than fear and aggression are shared between the two countries.
This is welcome news, and shows that art and literature can act as an entry point into another nation's cultural life. There is more to life than war and hostility and the politics surrounding it. I wonder if any of the political elites plan to read the novels; it might do them some good.

You can read the rest of the article at [The Monitor]

The Cancer Blog: Week 5

My Health

This blog within a blog will discuss cancer and all of my fears, hopes and expectations for a positive outcome—full and complete recovery. In addition, I plan to throw in some latest medical research. All cancer patients are interested, to some degree, in research and the latest medical findings; I am no exception. 


Let's talk about money, a subject that in previous times was considered rude to raise in polite company. Some still hold that view, but I hold a differing opinion. Seriously, I raise the subject, chiefly because a number of friends have asked how we are doing financially now that I have cancer. The question is valid, since both my wife and I are not currently working, and hence are not earning any income: I for obvious reasons, my wife for other short-term reasons, which will soon become apparent.

So, how are we surviving financially? First the bad and shocking news. We do not have stocks, bonds, insurance policies, offshore accounts, treasury bills, trust funds, upcoming inheritances, private pension plans, money socked away in our mattress, or other financial instruments that we could dip into for a rainy day or an emergency such as we are currently facing. That makes us both foolish and poor planners in the eyes of some, particularly those who have sufficient financial reserves to last a lifetime, or two. Or more.

Our lack of excess financial reserves stands as an indictment against us. We have failed to prepare a nest egg. An emergency fund of six months, as the financial planners say. They say this as a mild rebuke or accusation. Or perhaps not. But what do they know about my situation or that of my family? What do such persons pointing fingers know about how we got into such a situation? Do such persons know about our losses and financial difficulties? About my difficulty finding full-time employment? Were we frivolous in our spending?

Before you answer, consider this salient fact: My wife and I have not taken any vacation since 2003. That's ten years without any break from our routine of working, paying bills and raising children without earning enough to save for such a rainy day. Of course, like many parents, we have placed the needs of our children ahead of ours to ensure that they start off life on sure footing. We have done our best, according to our means, and yet we still retain doubts if we are doing enough. There are many Canadians and Americans in situations similar to ours. Or worse, yes, much worse.

So, yes, we are dipping into our savings, paying our monthly bills, including rent, utilities, food, gas for the car and other expenses necessary for our two boys, including clothes, recreational and educational programs and other necessities of life. (We have no debts, and live on less than $40,000 a year, a figure that might surprise some people.) My wife will hopefully soon return to work as a nurse, once she gets licensed here in Ontario. I am not sure when that will be, but it's not in our hands, is it? Here's a thought for consideration: An individual who isn't gainfully employed is viewed with suspicion in our modern society, viewed in some respects as less of a person. This might explain why many employees are afraid to retire.

Needless to say I have many other (more) important things on my mind. I am thankful, however, that the Ontario government has initiatives like the Trillium Drug Program to help individuals like me pay for a significant proportion of the cost drugs, including anti-nausea medication.

As for earning income, i.e., making money, I hope to find full-time work, despite the fact that the job market doesn't currently favour job-seekers. Even so, and despite my illness, I am applying for all writing, communications, editorial and media jobs that I know or find out about through friends and acquaintances.  Anything to do with writing. (Perhaps someone can offer some suggestions or help direct me in the right way; I am open to suggestions.) I enjoy working, and my two blogs, although without pay for my labours of love, provide me not only great satisfaction, but also a measure of sanity. I remain hopeful though somewhat tired and dispirited.

To those who ask, such is my honest and sincere answer; I doubt if it will please everyone.

Tomorrow, I undergo blood tests and another chemo session.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Job Market Bleak In Toronto, Canada's Largest City

The New Economy

If you have a full-time job, and you reside in Toronto, consider yourself fortunate; half the people don't, either working on contract or part-time, or not at all. So, says an article ("Half of Toronto-area workers have fallen into 'precarious employment': study"; Saturday, February 23, 2013), by Susan McIsaac and Charlotte Yates, in the Globe & Mail: Such is a telling indicator of how poor things are in Canada's largest city:
Research released Saturday by McMaster University and United Way Toronto provides new insights into just how much the labour market in Southern Ontario has changed. Barely half of people working in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas have permanent, full-time jobs that provide benefits and stability.
Everyone else is working in situations that are part-time, vulnerable or insecure in some way. This includes a growing number of temporary, contract and on-call positions. Jobs without benefits. Jobs with uncertain futures. This significant rise in precarious employment is a serious threat – not only to the collective prosperity of the region, but also to the social fabric of communities.
Beneath this finding is another surprise: precarious employment is hurting everyone. It’s found across all demographic groups, in every sector and across income levels that were previously immune. Having a middle-class income can now come with increased employment insecurity.
It is now common for many workers to piece together year-round, full-time hours by working multiple jobs. In addition, working conditions are more uncertain, as existing labour laws have not kept up with changing realities. Union membership is on the decline. Doors to opportunity are limited as opportunities for job training and development decline.
The news is not good, and is unlikely to get better soon, chiefly because of the way businesses operate, primarily as a vehicle to enrich senior executives, focused more on share prices and executive compensation than on customer service and employee retention and satisfaction. Job security has become a thing of the past, and even the middle-class, a shrinking cohort, are feeling the effects of the "New Economy," an economic idea favouring Big Business.

The chief question not often asked by the media and public policy makers is what happened to the economic idea of the 1970s called "full employment," that anyone who wants to work full-time can find a suitable job? Depending on the economist and the model that he uses, this equates to an unemployment rate of between 3 percent and 5 percent.

No industrialized nation approaches the bottom figure of 5 percent and it is doubtful that this will take place soon, if ever, unless companies make significant changes to the way they operate. For now, millions of individuals are living quietly desperate lives, often depressed and humiliated, wishing they could have a job but can't find one.

You can read the rest of the article at [Globe & Mail]

Winston Churchill: Second World War Speech (1940)


On June 4, 1940, Winston Churchill, the prime minister of Britain, made an important speech in the House of Commons ("We Shall Fight on the Beaches") of the Second World War, one that would later be considered one of the defining moments of inspiration for the democratic nations of Europe in their fight against the then seemingly overwhelming tide of tyranny and fascism emanating chiefly from Nazi Germany. Other nations would eventually take sides, including Imperial Japan and the United States.

[You can read the full text of the speech here.]


Saturday, February 23, 2013

U.N. Morally Responsible For Cholera Outbreak In Haiti

United Nations

Port-au Prince, Haiti: After the 2010 earthquake, the streets of the neighbourhood of Bel-Air become busier, many of them due to an influx of the homeless. Note the blue-helmeted U.N. peace-keeper in the foreground.
Photo Credit: Marcello Casal Jr/y Agência Brasil, 19 January 2010
Source: Wikipedia

An op-ed piece, by Louise C. Ivers, in the New York Times is right on the mark when it says that the United Nations ought to not only admit responsibility, but also offer compensation for introducing cholera into Haiti, a very poor nation of about 10 million.

The January 2010 earthquake killed 300,00 and left a million homeless; before October 2010, cholera was unknown in that island nation. Poor sanitation conditions at the U.N. camp is responsible for the cholera outbreak
Regardless of the merits of this argument, the United Nations has a moral, if not legal, obligation to help solve a crisis it inadvertently helped start. The evidence shows that the United Nations was largely, though not wholly, responsible for an outbreak of cholera that has subsequently killed some 8,000 Haitians and sickened 646,000 more since October 2010. The United Nations has not acknowledged its culpability.
Now, as the cholera epidemic appears to worsen, Mr. Ban and the United Nations have an opportunity to save thousands of lives, restore good will — and, yes, fulfill the mandate that brought the organization to Haiti in the first place: stabilizing a fragile country. The United Nations should immediately increase its financial support for the Haitian government’s efforts to control the epidemic. While that may not satisfy everyone, it will go at least some way toward compensating the people of Haiti for the unintentional introduction of the bacteria that caused the epidemic.
Before October 2010, cholera — a diarrheal illness caused by consuming water or food contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae — had never been reported in the country. In the epidemic’s first year, the striking loss of life attracted international media attention. Even in its third year, the outbreak continues to sicken thousands.
That the U.N.'s secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, cites "diplomatic immunity" as the reason to reject the claim is a cowardly act and a forceful indication of what ails the U.N., a deeply dysfunctional organization that has lost its way decades ago. It's not the first time the U.N., under a different secretary-general, disowned responsibility for its actions or inaction [think Rwanda]. To say that the U.N. ought to be ashamed of itself would mean that it had some sense of morality; it doesn't.

You can read the rest of the op-ed article at [NYT]

Are Renewables The Answer?

Energy Supply

Solar Power: View of the PS10 concentrating solar thermal power plant in Spain. This is the way of the future, say many energy critics, including Amory Lovins; in addressing President Obama, Lovins says: "Your National Renewable Energy Laboratory showed just last June how to produce 80 to 90 percent of America’s electricity from proven, reliable and increasingly competitive renewable sources like the sun and wind."
Photo Credit: Greens MPs, 2013

An article, by David Bergman, in National Geographic reports that such renewable-energy technologies such as wind power and solar technology—called renewables—ought to be the primary way to secure America's energy requirements.
In my recent post, “The Limited Vision of the Pro-Nuclear Energy Argument,” one of the commenters wrote: “it is a fact that only carbon-based energy and nuclear have a high enough energy density to meet our world’s demands. None of the renewables come close.”
I responded, “It is far from ‘fact’ that only carbon-based and nuclear energy sources can meet the world’s needs. There are many studies showing that a combination of renewable sources can indeed meet that need. And that will be easier still with a rethinking of what we employ energy for and how it actually improves our lives.”
I was referring, in part, to several sources, including a 2009 article in Scientific American titled “A Plan to Power 100 Percent of the Planet with Renewables,” as well as this study, this report and other promising work suggesting that renewables do, in fact, have the potential to meet our energy demand. (See related story: “Going ‘All the Way’ With Renewable Energy?)
A recent Climate Progress post offered an indicator that we might even be headed in the right direction, noting that, according to government numbers, wind and solar made up 100 percent of new U.S. electricity capacity in September. And earlier reports in 2011 (see here and here) showed renewables outpacing conventional energy sources in both investment dollars and capacity growth.
Of course, the oil and gas industry will disputes this finding, if it has not already done so, as will the nuclear and coal industries and their PR organs, chiefly I suspect because they have a lot to lose if it's proven true, or scientifically factual. The rational and scientific approach is to, with dispassion and disinterest, look at the scientific facts of renewables and ascertain whether it as a energy source can indeed supply all our needs. Then the public gets the facts.

But that's not the way it currently is. The public is left to read various accounts, whose use of facts differ. This makes it currently difficult to get the scientific facts, it requiring much effort, digging and sifting through the various reports put out by both public agencies and private interests; not all are factual, or as it were completely factual.

The reason is politics. There is a lot of politics surrounding energy supply in Canada and the U.S., whose result if not purpose to some degree is to confuse the public as to what are the important facts. Even as this is taking place, the public is becoming increasingly more aware of alternatives; energy is too important an issue for all of us to rely only on the usual channels of information.

Truly, it would be wonderful if renewables could supply all of our energy needs, not only for today but also for many decades to come. It would also be wonderful if, later on, scientists conclude that there are no ill effects to humanity in the use of renewables.

You can read the rest of the article at [National Geographic]

University Presidents A Bunch Of Boring Technocrats

University Life

An article, by Scott Sherman, in The Nation says that presidents of colleges and universities today are, generally, little more than fund-raisers, corporate boosters and technocrats, a far cry from what they ought to be. Sherman writes, asking a valid question, criticism implied in its posing: "Think about it: When was the last time a college or university president produced an edgy piece of commentary, or took a daring stand on a contentious matter?"

He continues:
Recently the old concerns about higher education leadership were revived by controversies concerning two Ivy League presidents: Ruth Simmons of Brown and Lee Bollinger of Columbia. Not so long ago, both were seen as public-spirited, visionary leaders: Bollinger, when he led the University of Michigan, spearheaded the fight for affirmative action in college admissions; and Simmons, in 2003, initiated a far-reaching investigation into Brown’s historic connection to slavery and the slave trade. (She stepped down last year.)
Those actions won praise, but serious questions have since been raised about what these people do in their spare time. In 2010, the Times reported that Simmons had served on the board of Goldman Sachs and was partly responsible for a $68 million pay package awarded to its chairman, Lloyd Blankfein, in 2007. (Simmons ultimately left the Goldman Sachs board with stock worth $4.3 million.) In June, Bollinger, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s board of directors, defended the right of Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, to remain a member of that same board, despite the fact that Dimon’s bank had contributed money to Columbia. Those who thought Dimon should resign, Bollinger reportedly said, were “foolish.” Criticism came quickly: economist Simon Johnson, in blog posts for the Times, lashed Bollinger for serving on the Fed’s board, for sidestepping an obvious conflict of interest and for lacking the credentials to serve. (Bollinger’s term ended December 31.)
Nice work if you can get it. Or is it? Most academics neither desire such a position of CEO nor would describe themselves as an ideal candidate for it, given the politics of such a position. Small wonder then that most, if not all, presidents seem like boring technocrats. It takes a certain individual with the right blend of character traits to successfully maneuver through the minefields of both academia and the business world. Truly, it's not an easy job.

Corporations have long influenced university boards; it's just now more prevalent and public, and now it seems the relationship is also moving in the other direction. This is the way it is today, since universities in need of funds for special programs, research centres and new buildings are looking to private business as their primary source of money. Both universities and society in general benefit, since much of the money is today earmarked for applied research, notably in the health sciences. In return, corporations expect more than a name on a plaque on the wall. Sorry, that's just business. Nothing personal.

You can read the rest of the article at [The Nation]

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Robotic Limb For Humans

Medical Advances

Robotic Limb: The technology, developed by Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, is the first that uses implanted electrodes, thereby allowing greater mobility and more degrees of freedom.
Photo Credit: Chalmers University of Technology, 2013
SourceChalmers University of Technology
An article in ScienceDaily says that surgeons have attached a robotic-type limb to a human in what it has described as the first of its kind. In the operation, the Swedish surgical team attached electrodes to the nerves and muscles of the human patient, thereby allowing the prosthesis natural movements and greater degree of control.
A surgical team led by Dr Rickard Brånemark, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, has carried out the first operation of its kind, where neuromuscular electrodes have been permanently implanted in an amputee. The operation was possible thanks to new advanced technology developed by Max Ortiz Catalan, supervised by Rickard Brånemark at Sahlgrenska University Hospital and Bo Håkansson at Chalmers University of Technology.
 "The new technology is a major breakthrough that has many advantages over current technology, which provides very limited functionality to patients with missing limbs," says Rickard Brånemark.
Big challenges. There have been two major issues on the advancement of robotic prostheses: 1) how to firmly attach an artificial limb to the human body; 2) how to intuitively and efficiently control the prosthesis in order to be truly useful and regain lost functionality.
"This technology solves both these problems by combining a bone anchored prosthesis with implanted electrodes," said Rickard Brånemark, who along with his team has developed a pioneering implant system called Opra, Osseointegrated Prostheses for the Rehabilitation of Amputees.
This is promising news for amputees, who for various reasons of accidents and genetic abnormalities, have had to rely on the use of a prosthesis to replace arms and legs. Until now, such a prosthesis has generally relied on electrodes attached on the surface, thus limiting motion to two degrees of freedom. The implanted-electrodes approach allows greater mobility, functionality and more degrees of freedom.

You can read the rest of the article at [ScienceDaily]

Hamas' Never-Ending War Against Israel

Israel & Its Neighbours

This article was written in November 2012, shortly after both Israel and Hamas agreed to a cease-fire. It looks at the politics of the irrational, that is, doing something for no rational reason. Such aptly describes both the Palestinian leadership and the Arab world, says George Jochnowitz: "Has there ever been an independence movement that rejected a state of its own because the territory was insufficient? The Palestinians are the first. They have been fighting against a state since the U.N. General Assembly voted to give them one in 1947. The Arab world rejected a state for the second time with the Three No's of Khartoum in 1967. It did so again and again, most notably at Taba in 2001, when President Clinton tried desperately to negotiate a deal between Yasir Arafat and Israel in the last days of his presidency."

by George Jochnowitz

What's that? Hamas agreed to a cease fire? It seemed the opposite was true. "Invade us! Invade us!" That was the message being carried by the rockets launched by Hamas against Israel. Hamas was hoping for another Operation Cast Lead, during which Israeli forces entered Gaza—to the horror of most of the world.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshal went a step beyond simply sending rockets to provoke an invasion, and said in words, "If you wanted to launch it, you would have done it." He was trying to tease Israel into actually invading Gaza.[1]

Why should Hamas have wanted an invasion? We have to begin by saying they are not practical. The rockets serve no military purpose whatsoever. They certainly don't serve the political purpose of supporting a Palestinian state. In fact, they do precisely the opposite. They are a warning to Israel that any further withdrawals will simply provide more places from which to send more rockets.

Has there ever been an independence movement that rejected a state of its own because the territory was insufficient? The Palestinians are the first. They have been fighting against a state since the U.N. General Assembly voted to give them one in 1947. The Arab world rejected a state for the second time with the Three No's of Khartoum in 1967. It did so again and again, most notably at Taba in 2001, when President Clinton tried desperately to negotiate a deal between Yasir Arafat and Israel in the last days of his presidency. Did Arafat realize that there could never be a better deal? Probably. A deal wasn't what he wanted. It certainly isn't what Hamas wants, since the Hamas Charter rejects the idea of ever coming to an agreement with Israel—something Arafat had consented to.

Yossi Beilin, who has served as Israel's deputy foreign minister and minister of justice, believes that Israel should go along with the Palestinian bid for recognition that Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority, is introducing at the U.N.[2]

Abbas generally sounds rational; a two-state solution has been supported by a majority of Israelis, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. However, he is pushing Israel to be irrational by trying to make recognizing Palestinian independence before it has come into being through a deal with Israel is much less rational. Israel would give up all its diplomatic advantages and territorial advantages if it recognized a Palestine that had no need to negotiate over boundaries. Israel would instantly turn into a country that is occupying another country—rather than merely occupying land it conquered in a war of self-defense. Abbas would be free to forget about negotiations, thus joining Hamas, whose charter excludes the possibility of reaching any deal with Israel—ever.

We should not assume that Hamas is rational. Hitler was not rational. He knew he needed Jewish scientists; instead, he killed them or forced them to flee. Former President Rafsanjani of Iran said in the annual Al-Quds (Jerusalem) sermon given on December 14, 2001 that if one day the world of Islam came to possess nuclear weapons, Israel could be destroyed. Rafsanjani said that the use of a nuclear bomb against Israel would leave nothing standing, but that retaliation, no matter how severe, would merely do damage to the world of Islam. That certainly was not rational, since Rafsanjani—and Iran—have no reason to oppose Israel. Why should one sacrifice the lives of one's people in order to destroy another nation that has never been an enemy? Since Iran has absolutely nothing to gain by destroying Israel, its intense and violent anti-Zionism has no tangible, comprehensible reason. As for Hamas, its passion has always taken priority over the goal of creating and building a state. Hamas is not only violent, it is gratuitously violent. Its only conceivable victory is the death of Israeli citizens.

How does one deal with an irrational enemy? There is no good answer. The United States and its allies managed to defeat Hitler through a long, costly, bloody war. Hitler kept killing Jews up to his last moment. Railroads were used to take Jews to Auschwitz instead of supplying soldiers (or evacuating them).

Hamas is not alone in its irrationality. A month ago, 15 leaders of Christian churches in the United States signed a letter urging Congress to reconsider giving aid to Israel. They think Israel is the worst country on earth. They are insensitive to the possibility of genocide. What could be more stupid than that?[3]

The United States and the Soviet Union went to the brink of war at the time of the Cuban missile crisis. Fortunately, they weren't irrational. They wanted to live. Hamas wants to kill, and it wants to die in order to kill. It is ready to turn all of Gaza into a suicide bomb.

Members of the Japanese Red Army Faction, on May 30, 1972, went to Israel so that they could achieve martyrdom while killing Jews. Seventeen of their victims were Puerto Rican Christian pilgrims, but that is beside the point. Perhaps they were the first suicide murderers to choose to die in order to kill Jews. Perhaps they were inspired by the Japanese kamikaze pilots who flew their planes into allied naval vessels during World War II.

Kamikaze is Japanese for "divine wind." The association of holiness with suicide killing makes us think of Islam rather than Shintoism. Suicide bombers have become the rule in all Islamic countries, where people blow themselves up in marketplaces and mosques for no logical reason.

Half a world from Japan, here in the United States, the Nation of Islam (NOI) argues that the Jews are not Jews at all, thus denying their right to Israel. Cynthia Ozick, in Partisan Review (1994, p. 384), quotes Khalid Muhammad (a former national spokesman for the Nation of Islam, who died in 2001) as saying: "You know nothing about bathrooms and toilets and restrooms and sanitation systems. You did your Number One and your Number Two, your pee-pee and your doo-doo . . . right in the caves and hills of Europe. You slept in your urination and your defecation, generation after generation, for two thousand years. . . . You knocked animals in the heads with clubs and boulders and bricks . . . and all of you would just gum them and eat the fur, the filth, and suck the blood from the raw meat, and you still eat your meat raw, to this very day." Like all anti-Zionism, the NOI position has no content--other than racism.

Khalid Muhammad's words were idiotic. Unfortunately, clerics in Gaza nowadays often refer to Jews as apes and pigs. [4]

This is equally idiotic, but Hamas believes it is what the Qur'an says. The current beliefs of Hamas are becoming ever more widespread among Muslims. This strange form of faith is the best explanation for why Hamas launched rockets into Israel.

Leftists all over the world have been united against Israel ever since the Bandung Conference, which took place in Indonesia in 1955. Rightists, who have an old tradition of anti-Semitism, have been less visible in recent years. This is changing. Hungary, in particular, is the scene of anti-Israel demonstrations by the ultra-rightist Jobbik Party, whose members recently burned an Israeli flag in front of a Budapest synagogue.[5]

Hamas is now supported by a left-right de facto coalition in Europe. Then why did they agree to a cease fire? Their situation must have been dire. They need time to rebuild. Why did Israel agree? Because an invasion of Gaza would have cost the lives of many soldiers. A life is infinitely valuable to the Israelis. Choose Life!






George Jochnowitz was born in New York City, in 1937.  He became aware of different regional pronunciations when he was six, and he could consciously switch accents as a child. He got his Ph.D. in linguistics from Columbia University and taught linguistics at the College of Staten Island, CUNY.  His area of specialization was Jewish languages, in particular, Judeo-Italian dialects.  As part of a faculty-exchange agreement with Hebei University in Baoding, China, he was in China during the Tiananmen Massacre. He can be reached at

Copyright ©2013. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. This essay appeared in Think Israel (November/December 2012) It is republished here with the permission of the author.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Olga Kern: Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3

Olga Kern, the Russian pianist, performs from the last ten minutes of the third movement of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto at the 11th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition held in Fort Worth, Texas, between May 25 and June 10, 2001. Kern shared the goal medal with Stanislav Ioudenitch from Uzbekistan.


Canada's Harper Govt Accused Of Silencing Scientists

Science & Democracy

Canada's Harper government has been accused of trying to "muzzle" scientists, notably in how they disseminate and share information to the media, says an article, by Margaret Munro, in the Ottawa Citizen:
Federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault has been asked to investigate the way the Harper government has been “muzzling” federal scientists.The request, accompanied by a report on the government’s “systematic efforts” to obstruct access to researchers, was made jointly on Wednesday by the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria and Democracy Watch, a national non-profit group.
“There are few issues more fundamental to democracy than the ability of the public to access scientific information produced by government scientists – information that their tax dollars have paid for,” they say. “We as a society cannot make informed choices about critical issues if we are not fully informed about the facts.”
The request for an investigation comes after years of controversy over the silencing of federal scientists who used to be encouraged to speak about their research on everything from melting permafrost to pesticide pollution. The evidence is collected in “Muzzling Civil Servants: A Threat to Democracy?” a 128-page report also sent to Legault. 
The report notes the Harper government has generated national and international headlines for stopping government researchers from talking about their studies on prehistoric floods, the unprecedented 2011 Arctic Ozone hole, and snow research in Ontario. It argues the government has implemented policies that now “routinely require political approval before scientists can speak to the media about their scientific findings.”
Government scientists are “routinely instructed to not speak publicly – or to respond with pre-scripted ‘approved lines,’ ” it says.
This is a serious charge, and I trust that the opposition parties will understand it as so and investigate thoroughly as to its veracity. Such tactics are reminiscent of authoritarian regimes and not of democracies; and if this is indeed proven true it's a black mark for Canada, and for its democratic institutions.

It bears reminding and repeating that one of the fundamental ideas of liberal democracy is that scientists are independent of the government and its authority. Ultimately, governments are servants of the people, and in accordance with such thinking, the people, through the media, have every right to expect truthful and transparent scientific information to receive the light of day.

Except for cases of national security, which are rare, scientists have every right to speak and share their important research findings to the media without any government interference or threats—whether such be implicit or explicit. Politics has no place in science. All in all, I would expect that the governing party of a nation like Canada has more important things to do than to meddle in areas they little understand.


You can read Environmental Law Clinic's report here & the rest of the article at [Ottawa Citizen]

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

First 11 Breakthrough Prize Winners Announced: Silicon Valley Investors Provide Funding For Awards

Reward & Recognition

Aarticle, by Rory Carroll, in The Guardian reports that high-tech entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley in California have invested  their money to fund a new prize in the life sciences. The Breakthrough Prize rewards fundamental research whose purpose is to better and extend human life.
The Silicon Valley aristocrats Mark ZuckerbergSergey Brin and Yuri Milner have jointly established the most lucrative annual prize in the history of science to reward research into curing diseases and extending human life. The newly created Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences Foundation on Wednesday announces the first 11 winners of an award intended to inject excitement into the sometimes lonely, underfunded quests to understand and combat cancer, diabetes, Parkinson's disease and other maladies.
Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook; Brin, who co-founded Google; and Milner, a venture capitalist, have dipped into their fortunes to sponsor awards worth $3m each, compared with a Nobel prize's monetary value of $1.1m. "With the mapping of the genome sequence there are expectations of significant progress in the next 10 or 20 years so I think the timing is really appropriate to create an incentive for the best scientific minds," Milner told the Guardian in an interview on the eve of the announcement.
A Russian internet investor who quit a PhD in physics and invested in social networking, Milner persuaded his fellow internet billionaires to contribute to the bounty to encourage a new generation of molecular biologists and geneticists. "Young people will hopefully get the message that not only the careers in sports or entertainment can get a public recognition."
Such is true; and this prize will likely get more attention in the years to come. One of its probable weaknesses at the moment, and this doesn't take anything away from this year's winners, is that the prize is currently focused on the United States and its research institutes. Nine of the eleven prize winners are affiliated with American organizations, all leading and recognized research institutes. In the years to come it would be good and advantageous if this changed to include more individuals and institutions outside the U.S. This would give the prize more international recognition and prestige. 

Even so, and more important than the prize money itself is what it recognizes— the fundamental research such scientists conduct, much of it devoted to decoding the complexities of cancer. Bravo both to the individuals who funded this prize and to this year's winners.

You can view the list of this year's winners and read the rest of the article at [The Guardian]

Planet Earth Perishes, Few Take Note

Shifting Times

Although climate change and its consequences have often been in the news the last two decades, it deserves more serious attention, since the potential for serious disaster are, well, serious, affecting our modern way of life. Yet it doesn't get much attention, probably for a number of reasons, including public scientific illiteracy, short attention spans, and a concerted effort by Big Business to shift the focus elsewhere in a "business as usual approach." Lorna Salzman writes: "Global famine from water shortages, droughts and desertification is being seriously considered. Not one of these scientific reports from credible organizations and government agencies has warranted even a first page story, let alone a large-type headline, in the New York Times or I dare-say in any other major newspaper in the country."

by Lorna Salzman

The New York Times headline, in huge caps, of June 25th, celebrated the New York State legislature's passage of a bill legalizing gay marriage. The news stories there and elsewhere say that this is a watershed event that will strengthen the movement in other states. It seems as if the printer soaked the newsprint in Champagne. The last time this size headline may have been used was after the capture of Osama bin Laden.

Elsewhere, that is to say on internet blogs, the dismal reports from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), climatologists and geophysicists mount daily, with headlines announcing the prospect of runaway temperature increase, increased GHG emissions in a steady upward curve since 1970, methane releases, predictions of super-extreme weather events like hurricanes, and increased ice sheet loss leading to a projected sea level rise of three meters before the end of the century. Runaway climate change, known as the Venus Syndrome, is a distinct possibility according to James Hansen.

Global famine from water shortages, droughts and desertification is being seriously considered. Not one of these scientific reports from credible organizations and government agencies has warranted even a first page story, let alone a large-type headline, in the New York Times or I dare-say in any other major newspaper in the country. Small wonder that the public has tuned out the issue of climate change. If it isn't in the newspaper, it doesn't exist.

Here's what the headlines should read:
Pardon me, gay friends and colleagues, but notwithstanding your successful campaign, I am still worried about this country. I am still worried about the planet. I am still worried about climate change, loss of biodiversity, the vanishing oceans. Maybe some of you can now relax long enough to join us tree huggers in fighting these other trivial battles, which may seem boring by comparison, or perhaps too technical to comprehend, or just plain irremediable. I know that your self respect and desire for full civil rights are important. I know that this will provide you a greater sense of security. All those things are true. Nevertheless.......

Nevertheless, this victory, while important to gays, pales in comparison to the terror that many of the rest of us feel as we contemplate daily and unremittingly the disintegration of the earth's ecosystems, the loss of species, the destruction of ecosystem functions on which we depend for food, water, energy, health and well-being. As things stand, there is a chance of a snowball in hell of a victory for us equal to the one you are now celebrating. We have no prospect of any celebration, certainly not in my remaining lifetime, and probably not in that of my granddaughter's either. We are talking about the future, if any, and the fate of seven billion people. We are talking about civilization. We are talking about Life on Earth.

Many of us, that is to say those paying attention, are already in mourning, fearful and anticipating worse to come. We haven't seen any sign of things getting better, much less even remaining where they are. In the lifetime of someone born in the next ten years, the earth will end up in that proverbial hand-basket  It will not be fun. There will be no place to hide. There will be no place to put fifty million refugees. There will be no way to feed the two billion more people. There will be no way to head off epidemics, whether flu or insect-borne disease such as Dengue fever which has now reached as far north as Mexico. There will be no way to prevent the ocean flooding of the cities along our Atlantic seaboard or the Gulf Coast. Urban infrastructure—subways, sewage systems, drinking water supply, electricity, gas—will crumble.

I have given a lot of thought to the disinterest and indifference of Americans, including the most educated and progressive, regarding the environmental crisis. It is not as if what we read about is new or recent. A review of environmental articles, books and research of the 1970s, and in some cases earlier, shows that all the problems we face now existed then. We just didn't do anything about them. Why? Because too many Americans were mired in single issue special interest campaigns, like a parade that went off in many directions, losing its way and its integrity. 

Nothing has changed since then, except that things have gotten worse and some environmental organizations have given up the ghost and thrown their lot in with Big Business, fooling themselves into thinking that this is the only route to salvation, and in turn being fooled by BB into thinking that green technology and capitalism are the answers....even though Big Business was responsible for the whole problem in the first place and has had half a century to do things right.

No, I've lost hope and patience. I'm afraid that I can't celebrate the small stuff, not because it isn't my personal fight but because time is too short to get deflected from the main battle. That battle isn't for one group; it is for the whole collection of "special interests": what we call Life.

The author, a graduate of Cornell University, has been an environmental writer, lecturer and activist since the 1970s. Her articles on environment, energy, biodiversity and natural history have appeared in leading journals here and abroad, including The Ecologist, Index on Censorship, Resurgence, New Politics, and Business & Society Review. Her professional career began when David Brower, the leading conservationist of the 20th century in the USA, hired her as mid-Atlantic representative for Friends of the Earth, where she worked on wetlands, coastal zone and nuclear power issues for over a decade. In this period she was instrumental in the preservation of two key wildlife habitats (Swan Pond and Maple Swamp) in Suffolk County, NY.

Later she became an editor at the National Audubon Society's journal, 
American Birds, followed by directorship of the anti-food irradiation group, Food and Water. In the mid 1980s she co-founded the New York Greens, later the New York Green Party, on whose state committee she served for several years, and became active in the national green movement.

She worked for three years as a natural resource specialist in the NYC Dept. of Environmental Protection, focusing on wetlands and coastal zone protection. In 2002 she was the Suffolk County Green Party candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1st CD on eastern Long Island, and in 2004 she was a candidate for the U.S. Green Party's presidential nomination. Her hobbies are mushroom hunting, classical music and birding around the world with her composer-husband Eric. They have twin daughters, one a pop composer and lyricist in NYC and the other a poet and writer based in England. They live in Brooklyn Heights, NY, and East Quogue, NY, and have lived for extended periods in Italy and France.

Copyright ©2013. Lorna Salzman. All Rights Reserved. It is published here with the author's permission. More of her writing can be found at

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

U.S. Initiative To Map Human Brain Will Reap Much

Brain & Medical Science

An article in the New York Times reports plans by the U.S. Obama Administration to provide funding to map the human brain, similar in scope and ambition to the Human Genome Project, a 13-year-old project completed in 2003.
The project, which the administration has been looking to unveil as early as March, will include federal agencies, private foundations and teams of neuroscientists and nanoscientists in a concerted effort to advance the knowledge of the brain’s billions of neurons and gain greater insights into perception, actions and, ultimately, consciousness.
Scientists with the highest hopes for the project also see it as a way to develop the technology essential to understanding diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as to find new therapies for a variety of mental illnesses.
Moreover, the project holds the potential of paving the way for advances in artificial intelligence. The project, which could ultimately cost billions of dollars, is expected to be part of the president’s budget proposal next month. And, four scientists and representatives of research institutions said they had participated in planning for what is being called the Brain Activity Map project.
The details are not final, and it is not clear how much federal money would be proposed or approved for the project in a time of fiscal constraint or how far the research would be able to get without significant federal financing.
Such are the type of federal government initiatives, including providing research dollars for talented and dedicated scientists and researchers, that have long driven American scientific research and placed it among the leading innovators. It's true that such programs lead to greater economic and social benefits, and even greater research findings to the betterment of humanity. I can't think of anyone rational who would be against such an initiative. Bravo.

You can read the rest of the article at [NYT]

Dire Straits: Sultans of Swing (Live Aid 1985)

Dire Straits, the British band led by Mark Knopfler, performs "Sultans of Swing" during Live Aid 1985, a concert held simultaneously in England and the United States for Ethiopian famine relief  that was broadcast to a reported audience of over 1.5 billion on July 13, 1985. Knopfler has been ranked by Rolling Stone in 2003 as one of the top 100 greatest guitarists of all time, coming in at no. 27.


Monday, February 18, 2013

U.S. Approves Nation's First Retinal Implant

Medical Science

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration has approved the nation's first retinal implant technology, which promises to restore partial sight to individuals suffering from advanced retinitis pigmentos, a genetic condition that damages cells surrounding the retina, says an article, by Larry Greenemeir, in Scientific American:
The FDA’s green light for Second Sight’s Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System gives hope to those blinded by a rare genetic eye condition called advanced retinitis pigmentosa, which damages the light-sensitive cells that line the retina.
For Second Sight, FDA approval follows more than 20 years of development, two clinical trials and more than $200 million in funding—half from the National Eye Institute, the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation, and the rest from private investors. The Argus II has been approved for use in Europe since 2011 and implanted in 30 clinical-trial patients since 2007. The FDA’s Ophthalmic Devices Advisory Panel in September 2012 voted unanimously to recommend approval.
The Argus II includes a small video camera, a transmitter mounted on a pair of eyeglasses, a video processing unit and a 60-electrode implanted retinal prosthesis that replaces the function of degenerated cells in the retina, the membrane lining the inside of the eye. Although it does not fully restore vision, this setup can improve a patient’s ability to perceive images and movement, using the video processing unit to transform images from the video camera into electronic data that is wirelessly transmitted to the retinal prosthesis.
This genetic condition, which affects, as the article points out, "about one in 4,000 people in the US and about 1.5 million people worldwide—kills the retina’s photoreceptors, the rod and cone cells that convert light into electrical signals transmitted via the optic nerve to the brain’s visual cortex for processing."

There are other retinal technologies being developed in the U.S. and Britain that harness our modern understanding of electrical engineering, brain neural codes and light sensors that show some promise for other more common eye diseases that affect millions. For example, on the horizon is a technology that will alleviate the widespread effects of macular degeneration, a disease that often affects the elderly.

You can read the rest of the article at [Scientific American]